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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Little Flo flourishing again as artistic centre

LITTLE Flo – once Europe’s only working mine for haematite ore – is starting to flourish artistically.

Florence Mine closed some time ago after Sellafield found it no longer had any further need for its pure water. Its workings are now flooded.

But just over the way from Little Flo’s distinctive pit wheel something very different – in fact artistic – is happening.

Centre of activity is an arts centre converted from the showers where the miners – known as the red men of Egremont – scrubbed themselves clean before going “yam” after a hard day’s toil in the bowels of the earth.

Some very creative work is taking place in the old block which today is home to the Florence Mine community arts centre.

Designed to play its own part in transforming the cultural landscape, the facility has become a focal point for community arts, design and renovation as well as housing a community cinema, studio theatre and gallery.

But on top of all this Little Flo has hit on what is not only an innovative but also unique idea – to manufacture and sell ‘Egremont Red’ – a special brand of paint produced from the distinctive haematite which Florence Mine holds in stock.

One of the big hopes of the commercial venture is to sell the haematite by-product to the National Trust for painting their buildings, externally and internally.

Potentially that could include Petworth House, where Lord Egremont, a patron of the mine arts centre, and his family live.

Attending the centre last Thursday to discuss the possibilities with National Trust representatives, Lord Egremont told The Whitehaven News: “I find that immensely exciting. I hope the trust will be able to help and I intend to do all I can to help as well.

“I am delighted to see the transformation into this new identity, I think it has great, possibilities.

“I am very glad to be involved in it. My own family’s involvement goes back many hundreds of years, through the mineral rights, and I am delighted to be involved in this new stage.

“It’s most encouraging and the centre has had a lot of visitors, too.”

The haematite ore is ground into powder and mixed with ingredients such as linseed oil and beeswax to manufacture a high quality paint which will be filled into tins and tubes.

Emma McGordon, programme manager for the artists-in-residence, said: “This is an exciting new venture as a result of the successful artists-in-residence programme.

“We hope to attract more artists-in-residence here in the future and to work with the general public.”

Little Flo’s Egremont Red paint is the creation of current artist-in-residence Mat Do.

Now Irton Ladies, a local group who have become closely involved in the arts project, will continue to make the paint, hopefully as a viable commercial product.

Jenni Payne, a member of the centre’s artists group, describes Egremont Red as “gorgeously rich”.

“We have been perfecting the formula and we hope the National Trust will be interested,” said Jenni.

It’s understood the paint could be produced in various shades and tints of red to fit landscapes in which it might be used.

Meanwhile, the walls of the centre are adorned with an evocative collection of water colours which the group’s artists have also executed, depicting various scenes of Little Flo.

The challenge for artists is to draw on the local area and Florence Mine itself to inspire their work.

Next Monday (April 23) the mine is hosting a ‘consultation day’ for local artists (10am to 4pm) featuring a workshop and opportunity to discuss what people would like to see in the centre’s gallery space. For more information contact Emma McGordon on 07739420009.

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